Property owners now have a method of fighting involuntary annexation under the “Annexation Reform Act of 2011″ (HB845) passed by the General Assembly. The primary sponsor of the bill, Representative Steve LaRoque (R-Lenoir) reached a compromise with Democrats and the League of Municipalities that stopped short of a complete annexation moratorium.
According to the legislation, if 60 percent of property owners in a community sign a petition opposing an annexation, the city would have to hold off for at least 36 months. Advocates for reform said that provision was almost as good as a moratorium because it should not be too difficult to gather the required number of signatures. Land owners in the area to be annexed could also take the city to court if they are able to prove they would suffer an economic loss or the city would not be able to provide services promised in the annexation. A city would also have to pay the full cost of providing services to the property owners who request them early in the annexation process.
If within 15 months property owners claimed the municipality failed to provide services, such as public safety or water and sewer lines, they could sue the city. If the court ruled in favor of the property owners the city would have to pay all costs of that lawsuit, including attorney fees.
Democrats complained about the lack of services for low income communities. They argued that distressed areas were often avoided by cities in annexations and said it was those communities that really needed the city services, such as water and sewer lines. LaRoque, the Democrats and the League of Municipalities came to a compromise and added a provision to the bill on that issue. If 51 percent of households in a community next to a city are 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below, the city could be required to annex that community. However, there would first be a study to determine if the city could afford the addition.
Representatives Deborah Ross (D-Wake) and Paul Luebke (D-Durham) said property owners should not be the only ones with a say in an involuntary annexation. They sought to give those who rented from landlords just as much right to fight an annexation. However, the majority of lawmakers rejected that idea.
Several local bills were introduced in the most recent session to halt proposed annexations while reform was debated. Those areas included Kinston, Lexington, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, Asheville, Southport, Ayden and Fayetteville. After the “Annexation Reform Act” was approved June 17, another bill (SB27) was drafted to apply the new law to all those communities facing annexation. That bill suspended any proposed annexation and allowed property owners to fight the city by getting homeowners to sign a petition.
The legislature will also address another type of land grab by government sometime in the fall. There will be a special session to take up constitutional amendments–one of those would restrict the use of eminent domain to condemn and take over private property. The amendment, proposed in HB8, would substitute the words “for public use” for the words “public benefit.” Bill sponsor Republican Representative Paul Stam (R-Wake) said “public benefit” was used in the past to take private property and turn it over to a private developer.
Representatives Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) and Ross claimed the proposed amendment may still create legal problems. Michaux said he was not sure it completely prohibited condemning a minority community as a blighted area and selling it to a developer for a profit.
Voters would have to approve the constitutional amendment in a referendum in the next election. The House passed the bill in April and it now sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.